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Barring Last Minute Reprieve, Graham Just Hours Away From Execution

Aired June 22, 2000 - 1:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Our top story: The death penalty is in the spotlight again today as we wait for a decision on the fate of convicted murderer Gary Graham. Graham is scheduled to die by lethal injection in six hours. Texas Governor George W. Bush is expected to receive a recommendation from the Pardon and Parole Board within the next 90 minutes. With the board's approval, Bush could issue a reprieve, a commutation, or a pardon. If the board calls for Graham's execution, Graham's lawyers will file a last-minute appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Graham has been transferred to a jail in downtown Huntsville, Texas, where the execution is set to take place.

CNN's Charles Zewe joins us from Huntsville -- Charles.

CHARLES ZEWE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, more and more people have started to gather here, including pro- and anti-death penalty demonstrators. Some of the anti-death penalty demonstrators, we're can take a look at now. They've gathered just at a corner of what is known as the Walls Unit, a place where they're being restricted by the prison officials to gathering and demonstrating against the impending execution of Gary Graham, which is set for 6:00 Central time, 7:00 Eastern time tonight.

Meanwhile, just a little while ago, the Reverend Jessie Jackson and Bianca Jagger of Amnesty International went inside the Walls Unit to meet with Gary Graham. They were accompanied by Graham's mother. He's the last visit he'll be allowed today, as the execution preparations continue.

Overnight, he was moved from the Terrell Unit, which is where most male death row inmates are housed in Texas, to the Walls Unit, which is where the death chamber is. But he did not go quietly. Prison officials say that he had to be subdued.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY FITZGERALD, TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE: We were attempting to put that apparatus on him yesterday. And as soon as we unshackled his hands to move them from the back to the front, that's when he started the struggle. The struggle was very short-lived. It probably was only a minute or so in duration. We were able to put the restraints on him. He was then carried to the van, the transport van, which was a short distance away.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZEWE: The Pardon Board that is making the decision -- the 18 members of that Pardon Board here in Texas are all appointed by Governor George Bush, who is powerless to act unless they recommend that he grant clemency, or a stay or a commutation. Bush can of course veto their actions, and that would permit the execution to go forward. But he can't act at all unless the Pardon Board decides to make some sort of move in the case. Who are these people? They are made up from various walks of life. There are several former parole workers, a former Secret Service agent, a former prosecutor, a psychologist, a rancher, and a former schoolteacher.

What are they paid for their services? In Texas, they make $80,000 a year. Over the last five years that Bush has been governor, they have only recommended one commutation. That was for alleged serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, who was convicted and sentenced to death for murdering someone, someone who it turns out later, he could not have possibly murdered. And so his death sentence was commuted to life in prison. He did, however, confess to Texas authorities that he took part in 600 other murders.

Gary Graham has been quiet since he's been on death row since last night, and in the death chamber holding cell. Prison officials say he has not made a last meal request, and has had only two cups of coffee since being put in that chamber.

Charles Zewe, CNN, live, Huntsville, Texas.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: And it's no secret that today's scheduled execution is drawing greater scrutiny because Texas Governor George W. Bush wants to be president of the United States.

CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is in the Texas state capital of Austin today.

What's happening there, Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Lou, it's very quiet outside the governor's house, or the governor's mansion, in Austin. No sign of protesters, a lone leaflet or two, but generally very quiet. The governor himself is over at the Statehouse conducting some state business. He was, this morning, to have a coffee with regional reporters. We were also told last night that he would meet with his chief counsel.

Bush, of course, along the campaign trail, especially over the past couple of days, has been asked repeatedly what he will do about the case of Gary Graham. He has always demurred.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My job as the governor of Texas is to uphold the laws of the land. I will treat this case no differently than any other case that has come across my desk. I will ask two questions: innocence or guilt and whether or not the person has had full access to the courts of law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Beyond the political implications of this, the historical implications are that Bush has never tried to overturn what his board has suggested. Only once has he asked for a reprieve, and that was 19 days ago, pending a DNA testing on a prisoner who is now on death row. We may or may not hear from the governor this afternoon. There's some indication that he might come and talk after he has made his decision. And, of course, that awaits a decision from the Parole Board -- Lou.

WATERS: What are the political implications here, Candy?

CROWLEY: Well, you know, a couple of things need to be said. One is that overwhelmingly, Americans still support the death penalty, although the number has dropped. Also, Al Gore supports the death penalty, as does President Clinton. So it is not as much the issue itself, but many have looked at this as sort of a milepost for Bush leadership. As you know, there have been questions about: Is he serious enough? Does he -- is he reflective enough? This is not a man given to publicly talking about his inner reflections.

But the seriousness with which he treats this, the way that he shows he has contemplated this particular case and the cases before it and those that will come after, in many respects, are being seen as sort of a way that people can judge how he handles these kind of serious issues. So, in that way, there are political ramifications, less so on the issue itself.

WATERS: All right, CNN's political correspondent, our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, in Austin, Texas today.

Voices of dissent are being heard today far from Gary Graham's holding cell in Huntsville. Anti-death penalty activists, and those who merely think Graham got a raw deal, are rallying this hour outside George W. Bush's campaign headquarters in New York City. That follows protests and prayer vigils yesterday at the Huntsville Prison here in Houston.

Graham himself, in a prison interview earlier this month with CNN, urged his supporters to protest what he called a legal lynching.

ALLEN: As you have probably realized, guilt or innocence is only one of the questions that factor into a death sentence, and it may not even be the main question.

Joining us now from Washington is CNN legal analyst Greta Van Susteren, who not only knows the legal complexities of the Graham case, she has spoken at length with Graham personally.

So, Greta, this parole board is meeting now. We'll know within 90 minutes their decision. What needs to be before them, or what has to be before them, do you think, as far as the representation that Graham got, what happened in that trial, for them to make a change about what could happen to him tonight? GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Natalie, listening to what the governor wants as the governor says that he had to have full access to courts, and he also says that he has to have had had full fairness, in terms of having a fair trial. Those are the two key questions. But now what a lawyer has to do is look, say: How do you save this person from the death chamber? And one of the things that's always a possibility, but I think is far too late in the Gary Graham case, with the clock ticking -- it's only six hours away from his getting his lethal injection -- is even something like the lie detector test.

Would that have been persuasive to the board? I don't know. I talked to Gary Graham earlier. I asked him about a lie detector test. This is what he had to say:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: In many cases, you have DNA, which can exonerate someone. This isn't the type of case where DNA could do that.

What about a polygraph examination? Have you ever taken one?

GARY GRAHAM, CONVICTED KILLER: I haven't. And when I was arrested in 1991, I asked for one, and it was never provided.

VAN SUSTEREN: And would you still be willing to take a polygraph examination?

GRAHAM: I think that's something that I'd have to look at with my -- have to follow the advice of my defense attorneys on that.

VAN SUSTEREN: What would -- if that were the only way -- I don't know that it could even succeed in doing away with your execution date -- but if that were a way to convince the governor, would that be something you'd want to do?

GRAHAM: I think, like again, I'd have to follow the advice of my attorney on that. But I think it's important for us to look at, as we look at the totality, and that is what I have tried to say all along. Let's look at the totality of all of the evidence in this case. And there's numerous evidence. You haven't been able to, you haven't even been considered to listen at the witnesses, let alone a polygraph test or anything.

You're not, and -- they're pushing for it because, politically, you cannot afford to acknowledge the question of my innocence politically, because to do so would be to publicly admit their guilt of placing another innocent black man on death row. And so everything -- they have tried, the district attorney's office have tried everything they possibly can to avoid looking at the evidence, examine the evidence. And they have tried to push forthright to try to carry out this execution on June 22nd. We have to stand against it in the community and continue to fight and rally support against it.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VAN SUSTEREN: Now, of course, Natalie, lie detector tests are not full proof and they are not admissible in court. But this is the type of thing that a lawyer might have done in anticipation of today. If the Board of Pardons and Paroles rules against Gary Graham today, I would say that it is all over for him, because I would not expect the United States Supreme Court to step in and to save him.

ALLEN: Greta Van Susteren, we'll talk to you more this afternoon. Thank you.

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